Canterbury Archeological Trust

No. 20 St Margaret's Street
Paul Blockley

Hillside Systems

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Salvage excavations in the basement of `Martins' (Now Waterstons) took place in late June and throughout July this year (1985). The work, which commenced at short notice following the discovery of well-preserved elements of the Roman public baths during building works, was financed by Mr Paul Phillips of 'Martins'.

During the cutting of deep foundations for a new steel supporting frame for the existing shop (foundations bedded in gravel terrace deposits, well below natural pleistocene brickearth) the development contractors, Cardy's Ltd exposed the sub-floor and a number of walls for a heated room associated with the Roman public baths. As a consequence of their discoveries, four foundation trenches cut for the new steel frame were examined in detail by the Trust. Three of these trenches located substantial masonry walls and the lower opus signinum floor of a hypocaust system belonging to a large caldarium (hot room or steam bath). The fourth trench lay outside the bath-house. The archaeological levels here were severely disturbed by medieval pits. Nevertheless surviving stratified deposits in this trench indicated the presence of early Roman timber-framed buildings overlain by a possible courtyard associated with the bath-house.

Picture of excavations The wall foundations of the bath-house including a huge foundation for an apsidal-ended room, continued for a depth of over 3m. below the floor of the cellar. The foundations were designed to carry substantial loads, and must indicate a building of great height. The lower floor of the heated room was bedded on a thick flint and mortar raft which in turn overlay a number of large pits or clay quarries yielding quantities of early Roman pottery.

These elements of the baths complex considerably add to our knowledge of this public building set at the heart of the Roman town. Combined evidence from excavations by Professor S.S. Frere under the Old Fountain Hotel, and the Trust's recent excavations under the new Marlowe Arcade and under St Margaret's Church, indicate that the baths occupied a greater area than was hitherto believed. Furthermore, the presence of substantial load bearing foundations under Martins suggests that the complex would have been an outstanding feature of the Roman skyline, complementing perhaps the massive bulk of Canterbury's Roman theatre located nearby.

One final aspect of the Martins discoveries remains to be described. The excavated portions of the baths under the Marlowe Arcade and St Margaret's Church, indicated two principal construction phases to the public baths. The first phase baths were probably in use by c. A.D. 125 and were subsequently altered in the early third century. Only one construction phase was apparent in the basement of Martins. The solidly built caldarium located under the present shop may therefore have been constructed in the first quarter of the second century and continued in use without radical alteration throughout the life of the building complex. The lower floor of the heated room was covered by a thick deposit of carbon residue from the final firings of the bath-house in the fourth century. Considerable deposits of demolition debris containing painted plaster, box-flue tiles and tiles from stacks which originally supported the upper floor of the heated room, sealed the residue from the final firing. These deposits may well have been laid down during the Roman period when material from the disused bath-house was being removed for re-use in late Roman buildings elsewhere in the town.

Further work at Martins is expected to take place later this year. This will include a complete excavation of the basemented area and the recording of elements of a fourteenth century timber-framed building recently discovered during alterations to the upper floors of the shop.

Thanks are extended to all those who took part in this work, to Mr Paul Phillips of Martins and the building contractors, Cardy's, who considerably assisted the successful completion of this important salvage operation.

See this place today Click on the logo to see this place today.   The information on this page is Copyright © Canterbury Archaeological Trust Ltd. 1986 Reproduced with permission.
The text and pictures were taken from Canterbury's Archaeology 1985/1986, The 10th Annual Report of Canterbury Archaeological Trust Ltd.

Peter Collinson Last change: 7th September 2008